In Thornhurst, near where mountain springs form the headwaters of the Lehigh River, Cindy Dunn of Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced that 2,650 acres of watershed land are part of the Lackawanna State Forest.
According to Dennis DeMara of the DCNR, the property was purchased by partnership working with the owner, the Blue Ridge Realty Company, for an estimated $8 million. DeMara worked with the Wildlands Conservancy, the Conservation Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and Monroe County.
"My role, in the Northeast covering 14 counties for DCNR's Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, is providing the grant funding up to 50 percent of the fair market value for projects like this," DeMara said. "Obviously, this was the largest we've worked on. We typically do a few hundred acres."
A press conference was held at the Lackawanna State Forest, Lehigh Tract in Thornhurst Township, to announce the land acquisition of the watershed and wildlands tract in the upper reaches of the Lehigh River north of the Francis E. Walter Reservoir.
The lands are along the Lehigh River and Choke Creek in Luzerne, Lackawanna and Monroe counties. DCNR calls these lands "some of the most pristine headwaters of the Delaware River."
According to Dunn, who represented Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary John Quigley, who was called to a meeting at the last moment, the acquisition will promote tourism because people come to special places. It will protect a high quality water resource. In particular, she noted, the tract has a high level of biodiversity because of the wetlands and river systems-the highest biodiversity in eastern Pennsylvania.
This is done in cooperation with Wildlands Conservancy and the Conservation Fund, Monroe County, and the DCNR.
"The property is fantastic ecologically," said Chris Kocher, president of the Wildlands Conservancy. "It protects about five and a half miles of Lehigh Riverfront property. It is a huge part of the upper Lehigh River.
"It continues the Wildlands Conservancy's legacy of protecting open space in this region, and provides a very significant riparian habitat and public access to the upper Lehigh River."
Kocher noted that the acquisition, which ties into about 70,000 acres of existing protected space, will be open to fishing, hunting, hiking, and boating.
The new tract is next to Gamelands 127 and includes Choke Creek Falls. It will be open for hunting and managed for timbering. According to District Forester Nick Lylo, a canoe and kayak launch will be built at the Thornhurst trailhead. His group will develop a 40-year stewardship plan to manage the resources of the acquisition.
"It's a good day for river otters," said Bud Cook, Northeast Pennsylvania Director for the Nature Conservancy. He pointed out that the long stretch of protected wetlands alongside a contiguous forest will provide ideal habitat to protect these playful creatures.
The source of the Lehigh River is a series of spring-fed wetlands centered about the 135-acre Pocono Peak Lake in Gouldsboro. From there, it flows through Thornhurst, and cascades over the Great Falls of the Lehigh at Stoddartsville before forming the reservoir upstream of the Francis Walter Dam. After a 107-mile journey, dropping 1,912 feet from its source, the Lehigh River forms a confluence with the Delaware River at Easton.
In the 1850s and 60s, Thornhurst was the site of a tannery along the Lehigh River that ended with an insurrection among its workers. The tannery was run by a young Jay Gould, who would one day own 10 percent of the railroads in America. He is listed by Business Insider as #15 of the Richest People of All Time.